SHERIDAN — Think of it: the sheer number of items utilized by hospital staff on any given day. Syringes. Gauze. Bed sheets. Masks. Cotton swabs. Surgical tools. Bandages. Splints. Gloves.
If you worked with Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s supply chain team, you’d know where each of those items came from, how much they cost and where they are stored on the hospital campus.
The number of items tracked by the team of eight is in the “multiple thousands” hospital CFO Nathan Stutte said Friday, near the end of National Health Care Supply Chain Week, which took place Oct. 4-10.
The process of obtaining the items utilized each day at facilities like SMH rely not only on manufacturers and distributors in the U.S., but across the globe. Tracing items from their origins to the hands of caregivers in the hospital would create a criss-cross of lines across a map of the world.
“All of those things we work on a daily basis to procure, they all depend not only on our own country’s capacity to manufacture, but from other countries too,” Stutte said. “It’s really dependent on global production.”
Beyond personnel, the cost of supplies represent the largest expenditure for the hospital. While staffing makes up 50-60% of the annual budget, supplies account for another 18%, or roughly $18.7 million.
While that total includes pharmaceuticals, Stutte noted when medications are removed from the equation, the hospital still spends about $8.8 million on supplies annually.
According to Jeffrey Mueller, supply chain manager at SMH, the most difficult part of the process is finding specialty products at the right cost, in the right quantity and within the time period required.
In a normal year, Stutte said, the hospital keeps roughly 30 days of supplies on hand at any given time. That estimate varies, though, based on expiration dates for various items and the frequency of use.
For example, the hospital typically orders some supplies used for treatments in the cancer center at the end of the week prior to when the treatment is scheduled. Staff members also work with various departments within the hospital to ensure specific supplies are on hand for upcoming surgeries or procedures.
The team managing hospital supplies often must balance the cost and availability of specialty supplies with the frequency of their use. They make their way through each unit of the hospital on a daily basis to ensure each is stocked with necessary items.
In addition to the organization and communication required to manage the cache of supplies, Stutte said the team must also stay apprised of any product recalls, product quality and availability to ensure patient outcomes aren’t affected by faulty supplies.
In recent months, due to COVID-19, some supplies have become harder to find and the time between when orders are placed and items arrive in Sheridan has extended.
Both Stutte and Mueller noted that personal protective items have become increasingly difficult to obtain.
The box of N95 masks that used to cost the hospital $12.37 per box now cost $40, when they can find them at all. The isolation gowns the hospital typically buy went up in price by 764%. The cost for exam gloves increased by 357%.
While the sharp increase is due in part to the dynamic between supply and demand, Stutte also noted that those prices are what health care providers are willing to pay in order to ensure they have what they need on hand.
“So many hospitals look at it as, ‘We have to have it,’” Stutte said. “We can’t spend a week negotiating with a new vendor. Our typical vendors for certain items dried up so we had to work through other outlets.”
And, he said, if one hospital won’t pay the given cost, 10 others are likely in line who will.
The supply chain team at SMH, as a result, has spent a lot of time researching vendors and working with the facility’s purchasing organization to sift through and find reputable vendors.
When specific items are not available, the supply chain team will work with physicians and other hospital staff to find suitable substitutes.
While the task requires patience, diligence and organization, the supply chain team at SMH take pride in providing the tools needed to care for community members each day at the hospital and have worked to adjust workflows in response to the challenges presented amidst a global pandemic.